What is Oedipus' tragic flaw, and should we hold him entirely responsible for the destruction he brings to himself and those around him? If it was his fate to kill his father and sleep with his mother, then can we hold him responsible?
By Lisa Bauman
Oedipus was without self-control and guided by emotion, especially fear. This rash attitude caused to his lifelong internal conflict and unhappiness, and eventually his full distruction.
This personality flaw was introduced in the very first scene of the play. Kreon was clearly a very dear friend of Oedipus, but in one of his emotion-driven fits he risks this friendship and even tries to murder Kreon. Oedipus rashly accused Kreon of treason because he had suggested that Oedipus consult Teiresias who prophesied that Oedipus is the murderer of Laios. Oedipus accuses him when he says publically that "Kreon my friend . . . desires in secret to destroy me!" (Jacobus 51). Later in the story, when Oedipus is brought to shame, Kreon shows that he truly is Oedipus' best friend. He shows pity on Oedipus by allowing him to be with his daughters one last time before his punishment of exile.
His first fault caused this second flaw to be truly disastrous for him. First, he was emotional and rash, and second, he was so blinded by his pride that he was incapable of taking sound advice. Oedipus was so intent on fulfilling his lusty, rash desires that he ignored all warnings against his desire to seek his birth origins.
The prophet, Teiresias warned Oedipus to not force him to tell his "detected truths." Teiresias warns Oedipus to bear his "own fate" and says that it "is better to do so" and insists that Oedipus lets him go home. Oedipus refuses with great anger and even threatens Teiresias: "Now twice you have spat out infamy. You'll pay for it!" (Jacobus 49).
Kreon's warnings went unheeded too. He warned Oedipus that "Natures like yours chiefly torment themselves." when Oedipus insisted that Kreon would die for his suspected treason (Jacobus 55). Additionally, Oedipus disregarded warnings from the shepherds, the messengers, and even his wife. Oedipus refused to take advice from anyone.
Finally, Oedipus refused to except that he could not escape his fate. This refusal is a symptom of his original fatal flaw: he cannot control his emotions, especially fear. When he first learned of his fate through the prophet, he fled from his home and missed years of joy with his family. His desire to protect his family was noble, but his sacrifice was unfounded. This rash decision only caused him pain.
Even his wife tries to reason with him that he should visit his mother and stop fearing fate. She says "Why should anyone in this world be afraid since Fate rules us and nothing can be foreseen?" She admonishes him that "No reasonable man is troubled by such things." (Jacobus 58). His fear to harm his family makes him unable to be with them. His fear of being murdered causes him to seek out Laios' murderer in such a passionate way that he pronounces his own horrible and unbearable punishment. Finally, his fear destroys him when he puts out his own eyes. He was so fearful to see the people he had wronged that he blinds himself. Truly, Oedipus lived a life of blinding, constant fear for his unbearable fate and this fear stole the joy from his life.
The final question is: Is Oedipus responsible for those he has hurt? I think Oedipus is responsible for wasting his life away. Oedipus even admitted that he had "wealth, power, craft of statesmanship, kingly position, [and was] everywhere admired!" (Jacobus 51). His own fear and rash behavior destroyed himself and many people around him. Oedipus cannot be held responsible for the Fate in this situation as he had no way to avoid it. Still, he is responsible for the way he conducted himself.
Jacobus, Lee. The Compact Bedford Introduction to Drama. 6th. Boston, NY: Bedford's/St. Martin's, 2009. 1-259. Print.
** An assignment for Eng105, Introduction to Drama, Fall Term 2011, Portland Community College